Loyal's responses to interview questions oscillate between a serious singer-songwriter who speaks of alliteration, melody and measure and a wry comic who likens the dynamic of his band's members to '80s super-robot Voltron. His explanation of the band's curious name even warrants questions: "I don't know. What's in a name, right? For Christmas last year Shane made Chris, Ryan and I homemade knives out of antlers and a piece of railroad track." Whether it's the origin of the namesake or a clever tale, it sums up the band quite well, suggesting something that is well-crafted and careworn, simple yet sharp.
What began as a group of Roanoke friends tinkering around in a Broad Street warehouse with a handful of rudimentary songs, a secondhand cello and a busted four-track has blossomed into a tight group of musicians and an intriguingly unique sound. The Knives possess the acoustic intimacy and insight of Iron and Wine with the more fleshed out alt-country sound of Calexico. And in the truest sense it's indie rock. The band is on Triple Stamp, a label founded by Loyal, Carroll and Adrienne Brown, and the sound is anything but the garagey guitar that has come to be associated with the description-turned-genre.
Last year the band released "Industrial Parks," a promising EP. The follow-up debut exceeds all expectations and showcases growth and maturity in a short period of time. "No One Doubts the Darkness" took six months to write and three to record.
"Before we even thought about going to the studio, I recorded everything at home on a digital eight-track," Loyal says. "When we were happy with the home recordings, we went into the studio and did it again. Everything was planned out, and so we just had to perform. We spent a lot more time trying to get things to sound the way we wanted sonically."
With the genius production of Allen Bergendahl at Recorditorium, the band did just that. The disc swells with aching beauty and spills over into Tom Waits obscurity from time to time. Brooding cello strings, jangling mandolin and haunting harmonies seam the songs together in what could easily be the soundtrack to a collection of dark folktales.
While the CD is not slated for release until Aug. 1, the band will preview the entire album from start to finish at Gallery5 with many of the guest artists who appear on the album, including Anousheh Khalili, Josh Small, Michael Satterfield, David Shultz and Adrienne Brown.
"It was a total pleasure they're all good friends of mine, and I really enjoyed working with Wil on the harmonies and duets," Khalili says. "He had a strong vision of what he wanted, and I think it all worked out smoothly because of that. They're talented, obsessively detailed and extremely dedicated. They agonized over each track and still managed to capture the right emotions without overworking the songs."
Homemade Knives will undoubtedly continue to hone their sound while carving a name for themselves on Richmond's musical map. S
Homemade Knives and their many friends play Gallery5, 200 W. Marshall St., on June 30 at 8 p.m., $5. Call 644-0005 for information.